Death is still a taboo subject

Wednesday April 24th 2019

Michelle Ballatyne

Written by Michelle Ballantyne, South Scotland MSP

Death is still a taboo subject and as a young student nurse I soon learnt that we addressed it in polite hushed tones and whispered in horror if someone suggested they didn’t want to live. Life is precious we would tell them, you must find the silver lining and fight to survive. As I became older, and I like to think wiser, I learnt that death comes in all shapes and sizes; it can be painful and sad, however, it can also be peaceful and I accepted it as part of the rich tapestry of life.

For years I lamented the perverse reality in which we would not consider letting our dog suffer a painful drawn out death, and yet we railed against the idea of giving ourselves that same care and choice.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that very few subjects are more emotive than the right to choose when to end your life. Previous attempts to change the law have run into a myriad of ethical and moral dilemmas and despite significant support from the public, have failed to win the support of any parliament in the UK.

However, I truly believe that the debate is now moving on. Since other countries have decided to empower their citizens to choose the manner of their own death we now have a growing body of evidence about how it can work and the impact it has on behaviour in our society.

Death is part of the human experience, but latterly the wonder of modern medicine has taken it out of our homes and medicalised this process. So much so that roughly half of NHS expenditure occurs during the last year of life.

Friends at the End (FATE, a Scottish Charitable organisation) supports and promotes end of life choices. Knowing that you can end your life at a time that is right for you brings a sense of relief; fear of suffering may be alleviated and the individual feels empowered, often in the face of a disease or incurable condition that feels like it has taken control and driven out the joy of living.

FATE, Dignity in Dying and the Humanist Society Scotland are now working together to support the development of a Cross Party bill to take to the Scottish Parliament. In order to reassure those who have legitimate concerns it is vital that we get the wording on the bill correct. This is not a move to terminate people’s lives early, but rather a bill to support the terminally ill and those who are suffering with an incurable condition to live life to the full in the secure knowledge that they are in control of their death. It will not be an alternative to palliative care; it is one part of that continuum.

It has become clear from the evidence that the right to die improves the quality of life for those who are terminally ill or struggling with an incurable condition. It does not lead to an early demise and there is no evidence to suggest that individuals experience coercion.

There is no doubt that the argument for changing the law is gaining ground. It is my hope that Scotland will once again lead the way for the UK, by embracing choice and bringing dignity and compassion to the one thing we will eventually all experience – death.

If you want to find out more and/or contribute to the work we are doing to bring about a positive change to our law You can contact FATE at

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